The Goblin Hero | END

Chapter 14.  I tell my story.

Once upon a time, not in an Ancient Age, but in our own, stories were built upon stories, and each story was something like and something apart from all others.  And none could remember or discern which was which.  Such were the stories of Meganna the Enchantress and Farquill the Lame — as Elf and Goblin, as Air and Fire, as Venus and Vulcan, as Lady Gwaine and Chief Twixt.

“Acceptable so far,” said Lady Gwaine.

“I could vastly improve this story,” said my sword.

Seduced by the subtlety of Farquill’s art, Meganna at last agreed to wed the Master Craftsman, but she remained aloof and coy until Farquill, in a fit of rage and passion, forced her to his bed.  From this single union, a child was conceived. Meganna favored this child far above her husband and, as was her practice, gave this child to her Faeries to hold and protect.

But the Faeries of Meganna were jealous of their Mistress’ child.  For was it not they who searched endlessly among the first cries of newborns?  Was it not they who selected the most talented and lovely?  Was it not they who Meganna commanded and rewarded for all children stolen and all changelings delivered?

“This story grows increasingly foreboding,” said Lady Gwaine.

“Not enough fighting,” said my sword.

One among these Faeries, both weakest and most clever, was the wingless and crippled creature that Farquill had made Goblin.  This false Faerie, this first Goblin, noted the mood of its brothers, and the deception of its Mistress, and the passion of its Master.  It noted the truth – and the falseness – of all things.

And, based on information available, the Goblin killed Meganna’s child.

But the child did not die.

The child’s body was dissolved into the wet leaves and dry moss of the Great Forest.  There, in quiet and solitude, the smallest creatures of the forest, in respect and deference to the Enchantress who had revealed in art their life, and in tribute and loyalty to the Engineer who had designed in form their spirit, created a new body for the lost child of Farquill the Lame and Meganna the Enchantress.

This new child’s body was gnats and lice, fleas and ticks, the tiniest and simplest of all things that hovered and swirled and collapsed and expanded in the boundary between what is and what is not.

“The Banshee,” said Lady Gwaine.

“Still not enough fighting,” said my sword.

This Banshee, remembering little prior to its transformation, was pleased by its new body and held no anger towards any who had provided it.  Imbued with the eyes of its mother and the hands of its father, the Banshee roamed freely, without care or concern, and soon moved beyond knowledge and control.

Meganna was sorely vexed to lose her child and was convinced that Farquill, in league with the Goblin, had stolen it from her.  In response, Meganna mounted a great Faerie army to destroy the forges of her husband.

Farquill was enraged to learn the fate of his child and blamed this fate on the false and duplicitous nature of Meganna.  Working in the fever of rage, Farquill built a vast army of his own:  sullenly resolute golems, with the first Goblin as their General, to resist and repulse Meganna’s attack on his workplace.

Lady Gwaine interrupted and motioned for me to stop the telling of this story.

She commanded her attendants to bring her the Beautiful Sword, the Sword of Severence, the Light of Elves, from the tent behind her.  She laid this sword unsheathed on her lap.  Her hawk came to rest on the hilt of this sword, and the Elf archers and warriors around her tightened their cordon, with me at its center.

“I like this story much better now,” said my sword.

“I am not finished,” I said.

Lady Gwaine motioned for me to continue.

“But take heed,” said Lady Gwaine.

The golems and the Goblin and the many artifacts of attack and defense that Farquill had constructed buried themselves, like hard-shelled locusts, in the grounds and fields.  There, inert and silent, they  waited for Meganna’s Faerie army to advance above them.  And then these weapons, living and non-living, rose, like plague, in ambush.

“No more!” said Lady Gwaine.

The sorceress rose from her chair, startling her hawk to flight.  She held the Sword of Light in both hands, its tip resting against the thick soot and ash of the burned forest floor.

“I have heard stories that Farqhill the Lame himself crafted the Ugly Sword, the Sword of Severity, the Bane of Goblins, from his flesh and spirit.  I have heard that the Ugly Sword can be wielded by none other than who Farquill has chosen as his champion.  Is this the sword you wield, Chief Twixt?”

“I have no story to tell of this.”

“And the ring?” asked Lady Gwaine.  “What does your story say of your ring?”

I slipped the ring from my finger and tossed it high.

There, in the air above us, the ring shimmered and became as it had always been, the First Goblin, a fatally crippled Faerie, with the ability to see the truth – and the falseness — in all but itself.

“What service would you have me perform, Master?” said this Goblin.

“Goblins serve no Master,” I said.  “We destroy that which would claim us.”

“Finally,” said my sword.

Goblins and golems of all sorts and sizes, counted and uncountable, living and non-living, with scarred faces and broken bodies and crippled legs, rose like hard-shelled locusts from the ashy loam where they had lain, like plague, hidden.

Orphans fell upon fathers and sons; waifs fell upon nephews and cousins.

I took three paces towards Lady Gwaine.

Elf arrows stopped me from going further, but the Ugly Sword, its momentum unchecked, sped onward.

Is the value of your life revealed at the moment of death?  Is the ending of your story read aloud for you to hear?

From what I have observed, based on the information available, there is only the denial of all subsequent revelations.

The Goblin Hero | 13

Chapter 13.  I am asked to tell my story.

I was aware of the sword at my side, the ring on my finger.

“Magic is seductive,” said the Goblin Chief who stood over me.  “But, upon occasion, useful.”

The Goblin Chief stepped back and allowed me to stand and walk to the front of the Goblin army.  Previously countless, these Goblins now seemed few:  some with swords, some with bows, some crippled and asleep.  Those with swords and bows glowered and shouted in my direction, anxious, it seemed, for me to depart their company.

“Our brothers have dispersed?”

The Goblin Chief winked and nodded.  Aided by my ring, I understood this as subterfuge, a slyness of some kind.

“The majority, yes, have been persuaded to leave this place for another.  Behold.”

The Goblin Chief gestured to the east where a barren ridge held bright red-and-green pennants and tall standards with metal tips and precisely lined snow-white tents guarded by Elf lancers and armored knights and lanky skirmishers that swelled and dissolved into distant vanishing points on either side.

I saw Lady Gwaine’s hawk perched on a black branch nearby, studying our conversation.

“Why are you still here?” I asked the Goblin Chief.  “Why am I?”

“It is though we believe our lives have value,” said the Chief.

I again inspected my surroundings.  Only some twelve Goblins now remained; the others had seemingly dissolved, somewhere, beneath soot and ash.  Those remaining held weapons ready, bows drawn and pointed in my direction.

“Fear nothing,” said my sword.  “I can kill them all.”

“Your sword remains exuberant,” said the Goblin Chief.

“It is consistently optimistic.”

“And an excellent storyteller,” said the Ugly Sword.

“Will you fight?” asked the Goblin Chief.

My ring fully revealed to me the thoughts and plans of this lone Goblin Chief; and, by that ring, I knew the whereabouts of every hidden Goblin and every hidden weapon.

My role in this story was therein set.

“I will parley,” I said.

The Goblin Chief agreed to this plan without objection and helped me atop my horse, the same I had ridden beside the Chieftainess.  My arms and legs were bruised from the beating I had taken from the Goblin mob, and I found it difficult to sit easily in the saddle.

My brows and cheeks were painfully swollen and unable to bear the touch of helm.  I left leather cap and metal headband and all remaining peripherals of battle at the foot of the Goblin Chief.

The Goblin Chief stood alone in the clearing as I left.

I rode towards the Elf skirmishers; they took little notice of my passing.  I was allowed to approach the largest and whitest of the tents, marked with gold and crowned with what my ring told me was the shield and crest of Lord Elwyn.  At this tent, Elf lieutenants in bright red-and-green armor inscribed with red-and-green checkerboards and black-and-silver axes reined and controlled my horse.

I dismounted slowly, in respect of my injuries.

“The Lady Gwaine approaches,” said my sword, though I needed no commentary.

Lady Gwaine, once Elf maiden, had passed into that realm between Elf and Goblin called Human.  She was elderly and fair, and she seemed both calm and welcoming.

Behind Lady Gwaine walked Elf generals and Human wizards, yet by the ring I knew she would be first and last to speak.

“You have come far, Chief Twixt.”

“I have come to find why you kill Goblins.”

“I kill Goblins because they have no future.”

“Goblins are accustomed to tragedy.  They will outlast your schemes.”

“Goblins will outlast my schemes until they are killed.  Then they will not.”

“Will you receive Lord Elwyn’s child?”

“You are that child, Chief Twixt.  Goblins are that child.  Yet you and your Goblins refuse that honor.  So, as the Banshee foretold, there is no child.  Today, I receive only you.”

“Why would Lord Elwyn sacrifice his life?  Why would he not have chosen, as you have chosen, to maim and kill?”

“Perhaps,” said Lady Gwaine, “Lord Elwyn was possessed by a love that persuaded him to do otherwise.  Perhaps he was, like the recent Berlyn of Bastwick, true of purpose but false of heart.  Or, perhaps you are not the Goblin you believe yourself to be, Chief Twixt.  Perhaps you are some other sort.

“But such speculations are of little matter.  The truth is that Elves believe their families and their society and their authority should be all families and all societies and all authorities.  And the truth is that Goblins would have no family nor society nor authority at all.  This, ultimately, is the way of their war — and there is nothing in love or magic that will prevent it.”

“And what is your role in this story, Lady Gwaine?  Who is your Master?”

“My realm lies in the sword at your side, the ring on your finger.  Humans have affinity with magic, and, through that affinity, Humans have power.  A circumstance of this sort is my own — and a similar circumstance could now be yours, should you choose it.”

I drew the Ugly Sword.  The Elf knights around Lady Gwaine drew their swords as well.

“Lady Gwaine,” I said.  “I ask what benefit you have found in your life.  What value does it hold?”

“There is no benefit,” she said.

“I could vastly improve this story,” said my sword.

“Chief Twixt,” said Lady Gwaine.  “It is my turn to ask.  Review your information carefully.  You wish to see truth without magic – yet you wear a magic ring to do so.  You wish to control your life – yet you court your death in order to do so.  You wish to deny your love – yet you are in love here and now.  Where do you stand in this war, Chief Twixt?  What is your desire?”

The ring held the Lady’s speech as true.  But then that ring, like my sword, was magic — and magic was notoriously untrustworthy.

I slipped off the ring.

In the place of Lady Gwaine, I saw again the Chieftainess, my Chieftainess.

There was neither dishonesty in the Chieftainess’ face, nor deception in her eyes.  She neither smiled nor frowned.  I considered that this was most likely because she did not exist.

I replaced the ring on my finger.

“You are four paces from Lady Gwaine’s neck,” said the Ugly Sword.  “Elvish archers will stop you at three, but a well-timed thrust and throw might still reach her.”

“What say you, Chief Twixt?” said Lady Gwaine.

I held my position.  I stood alone and apart.

“I believe Lord Elwyn sought to escape you,” I said to Lady Gwaine.  “I believe you stole his child and kept it from him.”

“Very well,” said Lady Gwaine.

The Lady motioned her attendants to bring a chair of knarred wood and bronzed knobs and arms with bunched lilies and legs of horned bark studded and staked with silver-steel finger-roots.  And her attendants brought her this chair.

“Chief Twixt,” said Lady Gwaine.  “Tell me your story.”

The Goblin Hero | 12

Chapter 12.  I wake.

Without pause, it was all like it was before.  I sat at a long table, candelabras above, Elves around.  I held a goblet of red-honey wine.  The Chieftainess touched my hand.

“You are happy now,” she said.

“I am not,” I said.

“You are surrounded by nephews and cousins, stories and drama.  There is nothing you can wish that will not happen.  There is nothing you can do that will be discouraged.”

“I am Goblin and orphan.”

“Wish yourself a family.  Wish yourself love.”

“If we wish something false, then is not this wish our Master?”

The Chieftainess showed me her hand.  On the middle finger of that hand was the ring of Berlyne of Bastwick, severed from its wearer by the Ugly Sword, retrieved by a talking hawk that returned without it, and once possessed by the spirit of a Lady yet unseen.

“Whoever wears this ring sees the truth of others.  Would you take such a ring from your betrothed?”

“I would.”

“Perhaps this ring would show less than you wish.”

“If it provides information, a Goblin would have it.”

“You would risk what you see and hear and feel?  You would risk your life?”

I looked through the Chieftainess’ eyes, and I saw the forest and the night beyond the Great Hall, the stars and the sky above the ceiling.

Something moved inside that dark.  Something was coming.

“If what I see and hear and feel is magic, then I would risk it.  It remains unclear, however, how a ring of magic such as this one would allow me to see any truth beyond its own.”

“These are the sorts of conundrums that do not go away,” said the Chieftainess.  “Chief Twixt, do you wish my ring?

I considered.  “I wish it.”

“Truth is a wish too easily granted,” said the Chieftainess.  She removed her ring and placed it in on my finger.

Light from the candelabras fell in streaks of yellow that were arrows that buried themselves in the wooden table.

A dancing Elf was struck by a Goblin arrow, then another, then three.

Then twenty.

Goblin arrows fell through the false roof of the Great Hall and the false mahogany of the false table of the false Elves.

Music was screaming.  Wine was blood.

Fire and flame.

Fire, fire, fire.

An arrow slid into the left eye of the Chieftainess.  Flames swept through the hair of the Chieftainess.

Goblins were at my arms, carrying me out of the Faerie circle, into the protective shadows of the Great Forest.

“Chief Twixt,” they said.  “You are rescued.”

I unclenched my fist.  The ring remained on my finger.

A hut of logs and mud lay burning in the middle of a starlit glade.  Goblin arrows, shafts aflame, arced and descended into the rubble of this hut.

“Where is the Banshee?”

“We saw no such demon.”

“Where is the Goblin with one leg of wood and another of stone?”

“We saw no such Goblin.”

I turned away from the glade, into the depths of the forest, where long Goblin shadows of me and my companions stretched and flickered.

“Burn it,” I said.  “Burn it all.”

The forest burned three nights and three days, clearing a giant swath of brown and grey that stretched across three horizons and up to the foot of the rambling hills and deserts that marked the beginning of Goblin lands.  For three days and three nights, the sky was filled with smoke and soot and painted Goblin faces black.

Aided by my new ring, I directed the wind and the fire left and right and forwards until it found and enveloped two further Faerie circles, each with a rough mud hut at its center.

There were no Banshees in these circles to befuddle and seduce.  There were no Goblin Chieftainesses to turn the attention of Goblin Chiefs from fire and destruction.  There was no resistance of any kind from Elf or Faerie or Human or any other — though I felt certain each of these were now somewhere watching.

After three days and three nights, rumors came that the main Elf army had turned and marched in force toward our position.  That position was no longer hidden.  Thousands of Goblins stood revealed without mystery or protection amidst the charred stumps and blackened limbs of ruined woods.

Chief Grog and Chief Muest and Chief Tork, and many, many other Goblin Chiefs — with names and without — gathered around me in consultation.

“Shall we run, or shall we fight, Chief Twixt?” asked my fellows.

I looked upon this ragged gathering of Goblins and wolves and stray and wounded dogs and broken horses.  Each looked like the other in some way or another, and each possessed in some part the features and walk and cries of Lord Elwyn’s cursed and wayward child.  That waif was now so thoroughly dissolved among these creatures that I doubted he existed any other way.

“Fight,” I said.

“If so, then so,” said the Goblin Chiefs.  “Still, there little to gain from unreasonable battle.  Despite our numbers, we remain few Goblins against many Elves.”

“Fight,” I said.

“There is no hero,” they said.

“There is no hero,” I agreed.  “Fight.”

My fellow Goblins moved glumly away.  And then, as the Elf army drew nigh, they returned.

“You have provided us with valuable information, Chief Twixt,” said the Chiefs and the warriors and the archers they brought with them.

“I am more than willing to share,” I said.

“This is uncertain.  Perhaps you have been seduced by a romantic ideal.”

“Unlikely,” I said.

“Perhaps you pine in despair for your lost Chieftainess.”

“This is but one of several possibilities.  I would argue otherwise.”

“You pine for your Chieftainess, and you commit wanton destruction in her behalf.  You refuse to accept the favors of alternative Chieftainesses.  You wear a magic ring as a token of lost affection….”

I sought to interrupt these far-fetched and hateful accusations, but already Goblin warrior hands were at my throat and Goblin arrowheads were pointed at my eyes, restricting the use of these in my defense.

“You wield a magic sword that can be wielded by no other.  You speak with spirits only you can see.  You think thoughts and make plans that transcend all but your own.  Chief Twixt, you have adopted a romantic ideal.”

“This is a possible conclusion,” I said, managing to speak from beneath the spike-gloved gauntlets of my captors.  “But there are others.”

“Release your sword.”

Pushed forward and to my knees, I unbuckled by sword and gave it freely.

“Release your ring.”

I slipped the ring from my finger and tossed it into the mob.

“Release your romantic ideal, Chief Twixt.”

“I have no romantic ideal,” I said.

“How do you come to such a realization?”

“As all Goblins do,” I said.  “From information available.”

“Do you regret your circumstances?”

“As all Goblins do.  I regret my circumstances.”

“There is no hero,” said the mob.

“There is no hero,” I repeated.

The Goblin mob fell upon me.

I fought hard, as it was necessary to do, in order to demonstrate that one – even one such as I – could not stand against many, however weak, however ignorant, however helpless these many might be.

Without the benefit of weapon or magic, my despair managed to keep me standing against ten Goblins, then twenty.  Beyond that number – and, quickly, there were Goblins far beyond that number – I fell.

“There is no hero,” said the mob.

I tried to mouth these words in repetition and agreement, but I had neither breath nor consciousness to do so.

The Goblin Hero | 11

Chapter 11.  I dream.

I sat at a long and narrow mahogany table, polished and shiny beneath glowing candelabras hung by spidery metal chains from round oak beams.  At my side sat the Banshee, and, on the other, the Chieftainess.  Around us at this grand table, chattering golden spoons against silver-glass goblets, were Elves clad in complicated finery of linen and silk, embroidered with ivy-green falling leaves on blood-red branches sewn in patterns of clouds and constellations and spotted with thick brass buttons that reflected forests and sky where there were none.

I wore a costume similar, with gathered cuffs and padded shoulders and a black leather belt that slung my sword.  I was cooled by a breeze of salty rain and spice and malt and wine.  My feet were laced in pointed shoes.  My skin glistened with oil; my hair smelled of perfume.

There was a silver-glass goblet of wine in my hand.  There was music in the air.

“What is this place?” I asked the Banshee.

The Banshee, alone among the room’s many guests, had its own strange form and shape:  vaguely Human, but composed and filled with an amorphous mass of bugs and shadows and the constant buzz of a thousand black flies that hovered as a single hive.  I saw no tongue inside the Banshee’s false mouth, nor eyes inside its false head, yet it turned and spoke and I heard its speech.

“You are home,” said the Banshee.  “As son of Lord Elwyn, this is your home.”

“I am no son of Elwyn.”

“Lord Elwyn has entreated you to deliver him a son, and so you have.  It matters little that this son is not of your choosing.”

“Lord Elwyn’s son is nearby.”

“One son is plenty,” said the Banshee.  “There is no need for two.”

I turned to the Chieftainess, but she was in cheerful conversation with her Elf companion, who now called her onto the dance floor.

“We are inside magic,” I said.

“Magic is an advanced form of storytelling,” said the Banshee.  “Try to cope.”

“Are you the same creature who prowled the Brown Vale?”

“I am.”

“Then explain yourself, demon.  Why do you intrude and oppose me?”

“I intrude no more than your sword,” said the Banshee.  “Yet you retain it.”

“My sword has proven its usefulness,” I said.

“I am useful likewise,” said the Banshee.  “Note this servant.”

Beside me was a Goblin as ugly, as malformed, as in need of repair as my sword.

This Goblin tended the goblets and bowls of the Elves, ladled their soup, and poured their wine.  Though awkward and angular and covered in bumps and scars, this Goblin’s movements deftly kept his hands free and his stance secure.  As Elves bobbed and weaved in play, he slid beneath their elbows and stayed several steps ahead of their shoulders and knees.

This Goblin bent to fill my glass.

I reached for his wrist to delay him, but his hands sped and his torso slowed so that my aim was wholly misplaced.  My goblet was refilled and placed in my grasp before any awareness and coordination had returned.  I watched this Goblin move to another.

“What is your name, clever Goblin?” asked the Banshee.  “Is it Twixtamixt?”

“It is not,” said the Goblin.  “I am called whatever pleases my Master.”

“Reveal yourself to your Master,” said the Banshee.

The Goblin paused in his labor and looked into my eyes.

The Goblin drew back his brown leather apron, spotted and torn and worn in full cover of his extremities, like the skirt of a dress.  Beneath this apron were one leg of wood and another leg of stone.

The wooden leg seemed as hard and polished as the mahogany of the table, yet it moved and swayed like supple willow in high wind.  Its joints were notched with bright copper hinges and wheels, and its upper thigh branched into narrow, finger-like twigs that snaked upward into the Goblin’s bloated belly amidst a belt of muddy brown leaves roped and looped by vines of braided silver.

The stone leg had no similar grace nor smoothness nor feeling of life.  It was an odd collection of sharp pebbles and misshapen rock.  It seemed as though this rough-and-tumble quarry might at any moment collapse.  But as this leg’s knee extended and its grainy toes spread, each individual rock and stone fell against some other and constantly rearranged its position so that no space was hollowed and no stone, small or large, fell beyond the whole.

The Goblin replaced his apron and shuffled, like waves on water, away.

“You have seen this Goblin before?” said the Banshee.

“I have not,” I said.

“Your sword leaves its stories unfinished,” said the Banshee.

“It frequently does,” I admitted.

“I am frequently interrupted,” said my sword.

“Come with me,” said the Banshee.

I thought perhaps the Banshee directed this command to the suddenly talking sword, but the Banshee’s blunted hands of tumbling larva and skittering beetles pulled me from my seat.  On shoes of pointed toes, I was led by the Banshee beyond the dining hall and down a cylindrical stair of sandstone and granite.

I hesitated to leave the Chieftainess, but she seemed well entertained by her company.  And my sword, if I wavered at all in my path down the Banshee’s stairs, clanged roughly against the circular stone walls and impeded my return.

At the bottom of the stairs, I stood with the Banshee before a cavernous hole in rock divided by iron gates and guarded by brass locks.

“The Family of Moss once held its servants here,” said the Banshee.  “Have you no memory of it?”

“I do,” I said.  “But only in a story of an Ancient Age.”

“Time has no value to Faerie,” said the Banshee.  “Neither time nor space.”

“In this, the values of Faeries are similar to those of Goblins,” I said.

“An interesting similarity to ponder,” said the Banshee.  “Now look with me.”

And, indeed, the outcropping the Banshee gestured me toward held the perch of the same Goblin craftsman befriended by Meganna, artisan and craftswoman, author and maker of the Beautiful Sword, weaver of clothes and destinies, and, once upon a time, pledged to the Family of Moss.

“The Goblin of the sword’s story had no legs,” I said.

“And now you behold a Goblin of magic that has two legs, finely crafted and functional beyond your own.  Is this information of value?”

“I find no lessons or values in stories and magics.”

“If you exhaust all other sources, why should you not equally consider these?”

I could not fault the Banshee’s logic.  And so, to salvage what yet remained of the truth, I peered through the iron gates and imagined what might be beyond, long ago, inside some Ancient Age.

A legless Goblin sat atop his perch.  His fellows brought him various sizes and shapes of pebbles and stones broken from cavern walls, and he arranged these in lumps and mounds that swirled and shook and scattered in dust.

After many tries, one of these mounds stood whole, spinning and tumbling in the constant ricochet of inside against outside.  The Goblin grasped this whirlwind of rock and it became a thick sixth finger that bent and pointed in my direction.

“What spy is this that Faeries send?” said the Goblin.

The Goblin’s fellows gathered to protect him, but did not attempt to bar my approach.  I passed through the iron gates and into the cave, moving much as the Banshee moved, dissolving and reforming at will.

“I am no spy,” I said.  “Rather you are my dream.”

“And if I believe the opposite — that I am real, and you are the dream — then who is true and who is false?”

“It is difficult to resolve the paradoxes of magic,” I said.  “We must only endure them.”

“I am maimed and imprisoned here by the Enchantress Meganna.  What is your burden?”

“I fear it is to know your future rather than mine.”

“Let us exchange information then,” said the Master Goblin.

“You will build a leg of stone,” I said.  “But it will not be enough to propel you from this place.  You will need a second leg, built of wood and leaf.”

The Goblin scratched his face and rubbed his nose. The whirling lump of rocks attached itself to his forehead, where it stretched and lengthened into something like a narwhale’s horn.

“And who will craft this second leg?”

“I believe Meganna will craft it.”

“Meganna will help me escape?”

“You will accept her gift,” I said.  “But you will continue to serve.”

“I will use her gift to escape,” said the Goblin.  “This is my desire.”

“If you accept her leg, then you will be built otherwise,” I said.  “Now what is your information for me?”

“Others like you have appeared in this place, and each has asked some question or made some claim concerning the Witch Meganna.  Perhaps it is she you and these other ghosts seek, rather than a captured Goblin in a foul Elf pit.”

“These other ghosts, do they have names?”

“Like you, they have none.”

“From whence do these ghosts come?  And where do they go when they leave?”

“They come and go according to their will.”

“Why are none here now?”

“Like you, they come alone,” said the Goblin.

“And when do they leave?”

“Always now,” said the Goblin.

The Goblin Hero | 10

Chapter 10.  I am happy.

The next portion of my confounded journey — surely no more than two weeks, maybe three — passed as though I were entombed and buried.  A heavy mist enshrouded all that was harsh and turned perception and awareness into dreamy reverie.

The Chieftainess and I rode dark black mounts at the head of a band of irregular Goblin militia who, in their age and disposition, increasingly resembled Lord Elwyn’s child.  This orphaned creature, child no longer, walked as lieutenant among the Goblin stragglers who, with stolen Elf weapons and the ferocious self-assurance of their kind, harassed and raided any who pursued us.

Pursuit, however, was slight.

The main body of the Elf force continue to raze Goblin villages elsewhere.  Only scouting Elvish cavalries and their errant escorts wandered into our path.  These were quickly dispatched by the more practiced Goblin blades and warriors who flocked to our cause.

I aimed our rapidly growing Goblin army five degrees further to the east each morning,  describing a gentle arc that intersected Goblin plains and Elvish woods, until we were placed between the Elf invasion to the west and the deeply forested valleys of its origin.

I had no goal for this strategy.  It simply seemed the easiest path to follow and the path least likely to confront death and defeat.  For, as we drove deeper into the thick woods of the Great Forest, our disorganization was increasingly less apparent and therein less disadvantageous.  Among the heavy foliage, bulky limbs, and tightly gathered elms and oaks, there was little room to maneuver and cast the pointed weight of armor and cavalry against an individual and isolated opponent.

Within these dense woods, the Chieftainess and I dismounted and led our steeds as beasts of burden rather than war.  Lady Gwaine’s hawk was likewise forced to descend, its spying made useless by a thick canopy of green.  This hawk adopted a silent perch atop the padded saddle of the Chieftainess’s horse, and cupped and coiled its head in slumber, and did not fly away.

I had little conversation with the Ugly Sword; the Chieftainess and I were most often in each other’s close company, day and night, and I greatly favored her touch and smile over the sword’s storytelling.

The demands of my role as Chief in these circumstances were few.  These duties were accomplished with little effort and with begrudging respect, even deference, from all following Goblins.  Under such favor, with the Chieftainess at my side, I found the extinction of all Goblins mattered little.  I had neither undue concerns nor thoughts on any peripheral matter — other than an occasionally sudden and reluctant recall of the still unresolved identity of Lady Gwaine.

It remained unclear – perhaps irresolvable – as to whether some spirit like that of Lady Gwaine had possessed the Chieftainess.  In the speculation of such a strange thing, I had little recourse to fact.  Either all that I had seen and heard was true, and I had no explanation for it – or all that I had seen and heard was false, and I was befuddled.

Whichever was true – madness or magic — I did feel and believe that there was something like magic in my exchange with the Chieftainess:  a deep and indescribable visceral pleasure in her willing companionship.

Was I in love?

Perhaps, I thought, I was happy.

“Am I happy?” I asked the Chieftainess.

“When you smile, it seems so,” she said.

I felt my face.  “Do I smile?”

“I think you are most handsome when you do not,” said the Cheiftainess, taking my hand in her own.  “You are most handsome when you are most serious:  A Goblin Chief of Renown.”

“And I please you as this Chief?” I asked.

“Yes,” said the Chieftainess.

“And only as this Chief?”

“I know you as no other.”

And, in truth, I knew this creature before me as no other than Chieftainess.  It was a sobering thought:  to consider that the entirety of your life had no value other than that provided by a single brief — and false — role you played by chance.

Some said – I had heard them say it – that it was only at the precise moment of your death that mysteries were revealed and the meaning of your life made clear.  But, for all those close to death I had questioned concerning this – Lord Elwyn most recently among them –- death merely seemed to reveal the futility of all subsequent revelations.

It was dark, far past time to camp.  I dropped the reins of my horse, let it linger in the press of limbs and leaves and, still holding the hand of the Chieftainess, slid silently past bough and vine.

I remained quiet.  I did not breathe deeply.  I heard no other Goblin nearby.  The Chieftainess followed my lead and kept close and silent by my side.

If we were to walk through the night, the Goblin army might camp behind us.  They might never notice our exit.  The woods might conceal our path.

We might escape.

But every branch poked and pushed against our shoulders and thighs.  Every twig was sharp and pointed.  Every shadow hid yet another clinging and tangling root, another necessity for detour.  I turned and knifed my way through this maze as it flowed in frenzied growth around me and kept me, amidst that growth, motionless.

At less than a hundred paces, the trunks of the trees parted, and the Chieftainess and I stepped onto the grass-covered carpet of a starlit glade.

The brightest stars above us moved and whirled and descended, gliding into our faces and eyes.  Lights danced into the hair of the Chieftainess, fell down her breasts, spiraled down her thighs, and sparkled at her feet.  These lights carried us like an ice slide forward, down.

With the distortion of time that came with all things Faerie, sounds and sensations faded and dimmed, as though from distance.

“A Faerie Circle,” said I.  And, though I said this loudly, it sounded a whisper.

Red-capped sprites tugged at our boots and hands.  They gestured and pointed us towards a raised mound at the center of the circle.

An oval doorway of mud and stick led into this mound.  Cool breezes flowed from this doorway, smelling of rain and spice and malt and wine.    My hand fell to my sword:  hard, cold, inert.

Lady Gwaine’s hawk fluttered past us and flew through the door.

I turned back, towards the safety of the Great Forest.  The Chieftainess was unwilling to turn with me.  I gathered her waist, but her attention was caught by another, with us now inside the glade, beneath the mound, within the door.

The Banshee.

“Tell me again the name of your magic,” said the Banshee.  “Is it Corcorallum?”

I shook my head and watched the Banshee bow to the Chieftainess.

“Is it Beezle?”

The Chieftainess bowed in return.  She was led through the door in promenade by the Banshee.

“Twixtamixt,” I said.

“Twixtamixt,” said the Banshee.  “Ah, yes.  Now I remember. Come inside with us, Father Twixt.”

Not wishing to leave the Chieftainess, I followed the Banshee inside.

The Goblin Hero | 9

Chapter 9.  I am told a story.

In an Ancient Age, in the days before Goblins, there were Gods:  Humans and Elves living among and above lesser creatures of water and sky, mountain and forest.

It is well known within this Ancient and most favored society that Farquill was most accomplished of Human craftsmen and that he wished to bed Meganna the Enchantress, most beautiful of Elf maidens.

Yet Meganna was fickle, and Farquill was denied.

“Is there no gift you desire, fair Meganna?” asked Farquill.  “No craft of stone nor design of metal that might please and pleasure you?”

“I have no such desire,” said Meganna, who indeed was as practiced as Farquill in her own art of braided cloth and threaded bead and leafy wreath and sculptured gown.

“Yet does not every maiden’s heart turn toward family and child?” asked Farquill.

“I would have child,” agreed Meganna.

“Then such a desire must be forged in fire,” said Farquill.

Meganna laughed and whirled away.  “No man shall ever have me!  And certainly not you, lame Craftsman!  Certainly not you!”

And, indeed, Farquill stood crippled, lame, and slow, his legs shriveled and weakened by the heat of his labors.  Yet, unlike Meganna’s other suitors, Farquill was most able of Human craftsmen, as practiced and skilled in politic and intrigue as hand and eye.

From volcano and glacier, lightning and blood, Farquill constructed a gift for Meganna: A child.  And not just one child – but many.

As with all of Farquill’s arts, these false children were pleasant only insofar as they were purposeful.  And their purpose was to pretend.

Their childish eyes were fashioned from river-light captured at dawn in small floating ovals of turquoise laced with amber; their legs, in Farquill’s own image, were less useful than the pointed wings he granted them of crystal and translucent jade spun and filled with the buoyant mists of wind-swept waves.  Their wit he leafed in slick surfaces of silver and mercury; their anger he tempered with the blackest of the soot of Great Forests burned.

And, when Farquill was done and the fire of his forge was extinguished, there were many such false children, and all were ready and all were willing to serve Meganna – all but the last, left unfinished, without wings or wonder, which Farquill placed back among dying embers.

“What is my purpose?” asked the first and greatest of Farquill’s false children, first to see and understand its creator.

“Your life is to please fair Meganna,” said Farquill.

“So it is.  So it will be,” said the King of Faeries.  And Farquill’s Faeries flew from his forge, into the sun, across the moon, and burned like the brightest of sparks in the thickest of smokes.

And Farquill heard nothing more.

No Meganna came to his forge.

No Faerie returned to its Master.

Slowly, on crutches of wheel and chain, pulley and spoke, Farquill moved from his forge to the grasses and meadows and woodlands where Meganna danced and whirled with her Faerie band.

“Are you pleased with the gift I give you?” asked Farquill.

“Most pleased,” said Meganna, smiling.

“Is this not a gift worthy of a husband?”

“A husband?” laughed the fair Meganna.  “Look, kind Farquill, how my Faeries provide me with child!”

And, indeed, in cradles of limb and bough were small children laughing and crying, captured and stolen by Faeries acting according to Meganna’s desire.

“Are not father and mother also husband and wife?” said Farquill.  “Are not debts owed also paid?”

Meganna laughed and whirled away.  “No man shall ever have me!  And certainly not you, lame Craftsman!  Certainly not you!”

Unlike Meganna’s many other suitors, Farquill was unable to dance and twirl with the fair maiden as she played among her Faerie imaginations and fondled and coddled the small children stolen and claimed as her own from all creatures lesser than she.

Slowly, on crutches of wheel and chain, pulley and spoke, Farquill returned to his forge and pulled the last of his Faeries, broken and wingless, from the cold ashes of its incomplete design.

He held this false Faerie close and breathed upon it.  “Your purpose is to destroy,” he whispered to the creature.  “You are enemy of all that is False.”

“And am I then hero of all that is True?”

Farquill spit in the small creature’s face and rubbed his thumb in the spittle so that the creature’s face was misshapen and unrecognizable as his own.

“There is no hero,” said Farquill.  “Now go, and live your life.”

“So it is,” said the creature, now Goblin.  “So it will be.”

***

The sword’s story ended and I awoke.  The Chieftainess’ breasts were against my chest where she lay and slept.  Across from us was an exotic hawk with sharp beak and cocked head.

“Do you believe such stories?” asked the hawk.

“Do you hear them as well?” I said.

“I do not believe them,” said the hawk.

“I am an excellent storyteller,” said the sword.

“Goblins seldom believe such stories,” said the hawk.  “Do you?”

“Allow me to introduce Lady Gwaine,” said the sword.

“I am, at the moment, Lady Gwaine’s will and desire,” admitted the hawk.  “Would you like me to possess that female creature at your side so that we might conduct a more intimate conversation?”

“I do not believe any like to be possessed.”

“You are decidedly misled in this belief.  However, it is certainly true that this hawk resists my presence.  It aches to circle and soar.  Is this not true of all?”

“It is true that pain must be endured with or without a Master, if that is what you mean.”

“It is not.  I have a ring – a very powerful ring – that tells me that you a mighty Goblin warrior.  Is this true?”

“Goblins do not believe truth is found in stories of swords or magic of rings.”

“Are you a Goblin, Chief Twixt?”

“If not, then what else?”

“Perhaps you are dead and dreaming.”

The hawk turned its head towards the sky, ruffled its feathers, and scratched its belly with a spiked talon.  It wriggled and shook its wing as though to be rid of it.

“Begone, wretched hawk!” said a voice, and the hawk flew into dawn.

The eyes of the Chieftainess opened into mine.

“Let us test how well we favor each other,” said the Chieftainess.

The hands of the Chieftainess slid beneath my tunic.  Hearing no warning from the sword, I found no reason – nor desire – to resist these explorations.

The Goblin Hero | 8

Chapter 8.  I become a Chief.

Goblins emerged from hiding and appeared at my side.  From their scattered conversation, I learned this:

The Elvish attack of the previous morning had been swift and deadly.  What few remained of Goblins had either succumbed or fled.  After recovering Berlyn’s body and Elwyn’s longsword, the Elf archers had prodded a few inert Goblins (including, I was told, me) for signs of life or resistance and, finding none, withdrawn.

From midday until dusk all had been quiet.

Once night had fallen and I awoke, the remaining Goblins sat and listened in silent audience to my consort with the head.  They now informed me of my role.

“You are Chief,” the Goblins told me.

“There is no hero,” I said.

“There is no hero,” repeated the Goblins.

To be Chief among Goblins is a curious role, in peace and in war.  First and always, the Goblin Chief is expected to lead by example, not by command.

While Elves are governed by the common and the social or, as they conceive it, Laws of Life, and while Humans are governed by politics and intrigue or, as they conceive it, Laws of Compromise, Goblins are governed only by self or, as they conceive it, the single and indisputable Law of Existence.

In Goblin philosophy, this Law of Existence must supersede all Laws of Life and Compromise, for, is not existence required of life?  And, likewise, is not any compromise of existence simply a self-contradictory claim made against it?

What is taboo to the Elf and illegal to the Human is neither to the Goblin.  Either something exists, or it does not.  And that something that does not exist is, in its lack of existence, insignificant.

Guided by this philosophy, Goblins have some foregone conclusions.  For instance, insofar as magic does not exist, it is counter to all that does.  Therefore, magic is, in general, insignificant.

For this reason, without regard to usefulness, Goblins tend to distrust all magics, stories, and philosophies that twist what exists into something more beautiful, more believable, or more preferable that does not exist.  Since these magics, stories, and philosophies are most commonly embedded in the social and the political, Goblins are resolute anarchists.  And, even more so, because everything exists – if it does exist – equally, Goblins are resolute egalitarians.

Yet, there are Goblin Chiefs.

During war, particularly against organized and dangerous opponents, Goblin Chiefs with a belligerent attitude are most likely to be followed and emulated.  And, during peace, particularly in forcibly social activities of game or trade, Chiefs are likewise welcomed.  Their reign in both contexts, however, is tenuous, and the circumscription of their behaviors — in both contexts — is strict.

Village Chiefs are expected to sleep in the worst bed of their village, and eat the worst food.  If they do not, they risk murder or worse.  If they do, then they are motivated, as seems reasonable, to make the worst bed comfortable and the worst food edible.

War Chiefs are expected to seek and achieve information of value, in an increasingly aggressive search.  To search otherwise – or to fail in that search — is to risk murder or worse.

Therein Goblins, most often in murder, select and acknowledge their Chiefs.

“The Human Wizard believes you have a clever sword,” said a Goblin beside me.  “Yet it seems ugly and crude.”

“It resists understanding,” I said.

“Will it serve all equally?”

I placed the sword on the ground.  “The information is shared.”

The Goblin picked up the sword.  It twisted suddenly in his grip; he mishandled and dropped it.  The tip of the blade caught a root and spun its hilt into his ankle.  He hopped away on one foot.

Another Goblin took the sword in two hands and slung it downwards onto a toppled bowl of clay.  The bowl’s rim splattered into thin shards that embedded themselves in the Goblin’s forearm and forced him to abandon the blade where it lay.

“It seems both crude and cruel,” said the Goblin with bleeding forearms.  I replaced the sword at my belt.

“I am an excellent storyteller,” said the sword.

We walked from the village opposite the direction the Elf archers had taken.  I thought it best, if possible, to delay direct confrontation in favor of some yet to be realized plan.  I had a vague notion of ransoming the Elf child for whatever Goblin freedoms this might buy, but I had no insight as to how I might achieve this as Chief of a motley pack of Goblins who could as easily be run down by lances as abided during negotiations.

The night was clear and chilly but not cold.

Our small Goblin band, older and younger than an army might prefer, had scavenged the village for food prior to our departure.  We were thus well provisioned and well buttressed with arrows, bows, and other random weapons taken from fallen comrades and their enemies.

The Elf child walked on my right, swinging a tufted and bearded Elvish dagger.  He hummed the same odd melody I had first heard during our encounter with the poachers at the edge of the Brown Vale.  He seemed several years older than he did in his appearance then, whether due to my inattention or failed memory.

And to my left was a Chieftainess who, in the starlight, seemed both attractive and practiced with the spear she used as a staff.  Her scent drifted before me as I contemplated the many consequences – some of them more favorable than others – of my new circumstances.

Behind us spread the rest of our loose band — less than twenty.

We reached a packet of woods, similar but not so foreboding as the skirts of the Vale.   Morning began as I lay to rest.  Camp was pitched around me.

I closed my eyes, hoping to dream of Goblin escape.

“I am an excellent storyteller,” said the sword.

The Goblin Hero | 7

Chapter 7.  I talk to the wizard I killed.

Before, it was late morning.  Now, it was late night.

I felt well rested.  Had I slept through the day?  The Goblin village around me was quiet.

Had anything really happened?

Had I really been a Goblin Chief?  Had there really been a Goblin army?

Memories of my confrontation with Berlyne of Bastick seemed at odds with many others, distant and immediate.  Yet, unlike those others, these memories seemed real.

I found my sword near my hand.

“To believe a thing, you must disbelieve some other,” said the sword.  “It’s only a story.”

“But what constitutes belief if a random story so easily trumps it?”

“Battle constitutes belief,” said the sword.  “Now pose your questions to the head.”

The child squatted across from me, whispering to the canvas-clad lump on his lap that, by the light of moon and stars, looked very much like Berlyne’s head.  The child made room for me to sit by this head, propped against the half corner of a razed wall.

“I was betrayed by a dastardly ring of Ancient Gods,” said the head.  “Do not think you have outwitted Berlyne of Bastwick!”

“I do not think it,” said I.

“The Ugly Sword is useful once and then, once its petty masquerades have been revealed, less useful thereafter.”

“How do you speak?  Are you alive?”

“Do you see a heart beat?  Do you see a chest heave?  No, I am not alive.  Are these your questions?”

“The head contains information of value,” said the child.  “Our quest animates it.  You have three questions to ask.”

“Two more questions,” said the head.

“Three questions of purpose,” said the child.  “The magic itself will adjudicate.”

“How do you come to be here in this village, Berlyne of Bastwick?” I asked.  “What information do you seek?”

“I seek the same treasure that Elves have failed to find.  Had I been allowed to seek this of my own accord, by my own means, I would have it now and be safely removed from your Goblin stench.”

“Yet you managed to lose your arms and legs in your attempt.”

“I was betrayed by a ghoulish ring for reasons beyond your understanding.  You too shall be held accountable.”

“Is Lord Elwyn’s longsword the treasure you seek?”

“If I knew the precise form of this treasure, I would not have had to barter my services for such a treacherous ring.  But I see this clearly:  Your first question is answered.  Ask your next.”

“Who is behind the slaughter of this village?  Who provided you with information and a ring to set you on your task?”

“Goblins will be destroyed by Humans or Elves or both.  This village is insignificant but that Elwyn of Oak, General and Lord of Elf Armies, left his camp in the middle of the night and later died here.  Whatever strange magic caused this oddity is well worth pursuing by any who might recognize and claim it.”

“You value this village and Goblins only as their enemy.  Perhaps Goblins value their village and their lives more dearly.”

“Dead Goblins value nothing.  They are dead – to their great disadvantage.  Elves live in their legends and lands, while Humans, with the right alliances and forethought, live forever inside their magics and machines.  It is inevitable that Goblins will die.”

“Goblins live and die free.”

“They die free of life,” sneered the head.  “And here is the answer to your second question:  It was Lady Gwaine who set me on my task.  It is Lady Gwaine’s hawk who escaped with the cursed ring.  And it is Lady Gwaine who now knows all histories within it.  Ask her any further questions regarding her mind and motives.  Now ask me your final question.”

I considered this final question.  Several mysteries remained.  Not least among these was how to escape further pursuit by Elf warriors and Human wizards.

But chief among these mysteries was the most immediate and obvious.

“My plan is to return this child to Lord Elwyn’s family.  What is your evaluation of this plan?  Will there be willing recipients of this gift?”

“Lord Elwyn has no son, false Goblin.”

“A hidden son, perhaps.  One which may not have been widely known.”

“None at all,” said the head.

“Surely a Human wizard would not have such intimate knowledge of Elvish fathers and sons.”

“There will be no willing recipients of this gift,” repeated the head.

The head’s eyelids drooped.  Its pallor turned grey.

“Your evaluation of my plan,” I said. “This is part of the question you must answer.”

“You have no plan,” said the head, speaking in a whisper.  “Magic is its own master.”

The head closed its eyes.

The child re-wrapped the head in the torn and blood-stained canvas and then, unceremoniously, kicked it into darkness.

“Rubbish to rubbish,” said the child.

“Who – or what — are you?” I asked the child.

Unlike the head of Berlyne of Bastwick, the child did not seem compelled to answer.

The Goblin Hero | 6

Chapter 6.  I meet a wizard and kill him.

The small stone totems – about the child’s height — marking the village perimeters had no faces, but were inscribed exactly as was the largest stone totem in the village center:

There is no king.

There is no queen.

There is no hope.

There is no hero.

The village lay in smoky ruins.  An occasional Elf body was intermixed among much more numerous and arrow-riddled Goblin corpses.

I had thought the Elven lancers a probe for some attack yet to come.  But perhaps they were merely remnants of a foray already completed.

In horror and fear, the remaining Goblin stragglers – mostly children and old women — came together in a single group.  The child and I were near the center of this reluctant pack as we approached the stone totem where, recently, I had watched Lord Elwyn die.

The village square held a raised platform, composed of broken wagons and barrels leaning at odd angles against and partially supported by the base of a stone totem.  On this platform was a blue-robed Human with a crooked nose and a crooked staff of dark wood.  Some sort of exotic hawk perched on the tip of his staff.

“Goblins!” said the wizard.  “Gather!”

The headstrong child once again pulled away and, for the moment, lost himself among others.  I had little fear of failing to recapture him, however.   There was nowhere else to go.

“Berlyne of Bastwick,” said the sword.

“Is this battle knowledge?” I posed the sword.  “Are you going to kill something?”

“Not immediately.  But there is a threat:  The wizard’s ring.  It is an ancient seeing ring, given to Berlyne by a mystical personage with powers greater than my own.  This ring may well discern, if you wish it, your history.”

“And if I do not wish it?”

“Then another sort of history will be discerned.  I am, after all, a practiced storyteller.”

“Goblins!” said Berlyne.  “You are safe now.  This Elvish attack was for your own benefit, to remove your village from the curse of the mad Elf who recently here died.  I, Berlyne of Bastwick, have negotiated a peaceful retreat for you and will monitor your progress to a more agreeable village in a more agreeable land.”

“We shall either stay or make our own way as we see fit,” shouted an elder Goblin.

“Calm, my brothers,” pleaded Berlyne.  “Is it not your way, in moments such as these, to share information?”

“Look around!” came the cry.  “See the dead and dying!  An evil Elf attack led by a duplicitous wizard!  The information is clear.”

“Look further!” shouted Berlyne.  “Are not your brother Goblins now at your side to ensure your protection and well-being?  Am I not alone and without guard?  Who other than I shall lead you to safety?”

“Father Twixt shall lead us!” came a voice near the edge of the platform.

Berlyne smiled down at the child.  “Is Father Twixt your own father, small creature?”

“”Father’ may be a term of respect as well as heritage,” said the child.

Berlyne turned to inspect the remaining Goblins.  “Very well, let this Father Twixt come forth.”

The child pulled me forward.

Several of the Goblins parted to allow me to ascend to the wizard’s platform.  Others, the majority, refused to move and snarled at my passing, as any Goblin would when some other made claim to their leadership and control.

I had little interest in the Goblins’ reactions.  My attention was commanded by the wizard.

The hawk on Berlyne’s staff leaped and fluttered in the air.

The ring on Berlyne’s hand sparkled and glowed.

This ring leaked a pale yellow light into all peripheries.  Inside those peripheries, I could see the stone totem, the platform, Berlyne, and the child at my side.

Outside those peripheries, at the center of my vision, I saw other things.

I saw buried Goblins, faces covered with ash and soot, rising like locusts in spiked and rough-edged armors to engage an Elf army in ambush.

I saw myself stiff and studded with Goblin armor, brown and black, the tarred markings of Chief on my forehead.

I saw Goblin warriors and archers and cavalries riding gaunt hounds, pulling crude cannons on pointed wooden sleds, lighting small, dim fires.

“This story is over,” said the sword.

My left elbow flinched, and the sword rose and slid across Berlyne’s shoulders.  Berlyne’s head, his lips pursed as though in a kiss, disappeared.  Moments later, this same head bounced once upon the platform and once more into the Goblin crowd.

Berlyne’s body collapsed beneath his blue robe.  The circling hawk landed atop the crumpled cloth of the robe and pecked within its folds.

“The ring,” said the sword.

The hawk fluttered backwards as I knelt and sliced off the ring finger of Berlyne’s exposed hand.  The hawk nibbled a moment at a long purple fingernail, then gained the ring its beak and took flight.

I watched the hawk’s black silhouette rise above the misguided arcs of sudden Goblin arrows.

“Father Twixt!” cried the Goblins.  “Father Twixt!”

A very large Goblin motioned me down from the platform.

“I am Chief,” said the very large Goblin.  “Let us speak.”

I followed this Goblin into a ruined chamber of blackened wood and crumbled stone.  The child came behind me came carrying a torn and crimson canvas.

“Though magic will be our undoing, magic can also be useful upon occasion,” said the Chief.  “I give you information.”

The Goblin Chief pulled a great longsword from the rubble of the broken chamber.  Red and green light flowed the length of its blade.  Familiar etchings glittered.

“Surely this is what the Elves seek,” said the Goblin.  And it did indeed seem the same sword of beauty that Lord Elwyn had lifted above his head two nights previously.

A thick hail of arrows fell around us as the child pulled me down amidst the broken beams and bloody torsos of a previous battle.

The Goblin Chief bellowed and charged back into the square, his stolen longsword held high.  He was immediately impaled by three Elf arrows and fell.  Lord Elwyn’s sword spun from his grasp, clanging loudly against stone and rock.

Elves screamed.  Goblins cried.

I shifted to remove the child’s weight from my back.  Off-balance, the tip of my ugly sword bounced off a broken table leg and angled its hilt into my forehead.

Dumbstruck by this blow, I slept.

The Goblin Hero | 5

Chapter 5.  Elves and Goblins die.

The Elf lancers came swiftly and silently on long lithe Faerie ponies.  There were but six lancers, no more than a hunting party, but they were clad in armor and helm rather than the leathers and skins of more genteel pursuits.

The few scattered Goblins who turned and stood, exhausted, to gather the rocks and dirt at their feet and throw these in desperation at the Elves were quickly surrounded and dispatched without mercy.   The Elf horsemen spoke no word nor shouted any command, yet operated with the precision and purpose of a well-trained militia.

Due to the speed and ruthlessness of these Elves, there was little chance to escape.  The safety of the village seemed much too distant, and the immediate landscape offered no tactical advantage against their spears and mounts.

I took up the sword and placed the boy to my rear.

The child had no fear.

“To the right,” commanded my sword, and I moved to my right.  The Elf lancer closest spun his pony and wheeled to face my blade.

“William of the Family of Oak,” said the sword.  “A third son of father Erich.  Two sons and three daughters.  Heir to a minor fiefdom currently held by his dowager aunt.”

Perhaps sensing the magic in the sword, the Elf’s pony reared and snorted, flashing its mirrored hooves in the morning sun.  The Elf shifted his lance from his shoulder to his palm and, in a single motion, spurred his mount forward and cast the tip of his weapon towards my chest.

I flinched in anticipation of the pain and involuntarily, helplessly, raised my hands in defense.  Somehow, the tip of the lance clanged against the blade of my sword, shoving its flat surface against my left shoulder and turning my body in that direction.  I stumbled and fell, safely removed from the thrust of the pony’s charge.  As I fell, the edge of the sword clattered and slid across the right hind leg of the Elvish pony and sliced off one of its silvery hooves.

The pony collapsed and writhed on the sand.  The Elven rider tumbled and rolled to his feet, long hooked daggers coiled in both hands.

“A little more faith,” said the sword as I regained it.

I held the sword forward, and the Elf launched his attack.  In this attack, I felt more evenly matched and held my position.  At my first parry, one of the Elf’s blades was hewn to its hilt.

My Elf opponent stood up from his crouch, backed away, and removed his helm.  He squinted in my direction.  “That sword cannot be yours, Goblin.  It deserves a proper Family.  I will take it from you.”

“William of Oak,” I said.  “You have insight into matters of value to us both.  Let us share information.”

The Elf replaced his helm and glanced briefly in the direction of the other five riders, who now, without further prey, had dismounted and walked slowly towards us, lances held low at hips and thighs.

The Elf before me removed a black pouch from his jerkin and spread the white powder inside it along his remaining blade.

“Ground snake scales, sandstone, and boar’s blood,” said the sword.  “Given to William of Oak by his younger daughter Saya as protection against shamans and treacheries.”

The Elf tightened and replaced the pouch at his neck.  He twirled his remaining blade, dulled and reddened by the potion, from his left hand to his right.

“Do you mean to kill him?” I asked my sword.

The Elf rushed me.  The sword parried and thrust itself into the neck of William of Oak.

I pulled the sword forth, and William’s blood gushed and bubbled onto stone and weed.

“Not just him,” said the sword.

Seeing their companion fall, the remaining five riders remounted and charged me as one, lances low and forward.  The sword killed two of the Faerie ponies in their initial charge, and then quickly murdered three of the Elves in the brief battle that ensued.  The remaining two Elves, along with a single, riderless pony, fled to the east, into the sun.

“Throw me at them while they are yet within range!” pleaded the sword.

I refused.

The child stood where I had earlier positioned him, unharmed and unconcerned.

I inspected the bodies.  Each was similarly armored and marked with the generic heraldry of Elvish cavalry.  “This is no Family vendetta nor paid expedition,” I said.  “An Elvish army campaigns against Goblins.”

“I would conclude likewise,” said the sword.

“Why did they not acknowledge and seize the child?”

“I don’t know,” said the sword.

“Yet you know the lineage of those you kill?  You know their Family names and the number of their children?”

“Perhaps I do and perhaps I don’t.  You may consider my knowledge a form of battle madness.  At present, outside of combat, I am quite ignorant of Elves and their families.”

I held the sword close to its first victim.

“Is this is not the blood of William of the Family of Oak, whose youngest daughter sought to protect him from harm?”

“Perhaps it is, and perhaps it isn’t,” said the sword.  “Battle knowledge is uncertain and fleeting.  And, even in battle, trust in deed alone.”

“Are you a liar, dear sword?”

“I am a practiced storyteller,” said the sword.  “Once something is dead and defeated, what is the difference between its story and its truth?”

“We should go to the village now,” said the child.

Goblins previously in hiding, partially buried and flattened in the sand, rose around us and were now intent, it seemed, to reach the nearby village as soon as possible.

“Would you like to hear a story as you walk?” said the sword.  “I am a practiced storyteller.”

“No,” I said.

A Goblin village in isolation and a Goblin camp at war were two different circumstances.  I believed now the sword would be welcomed according to its usefulness.  I replaced the sword at my belt, took the child’s arm and, with the other Goblins in retreat, fled in the direction of the village.